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Safety on Set Amid Changing COVID-19 Guidelines

What productions should know as they head back to work
June 9, 2021

Staff Writer

actors on set

Since the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), along with the entertainment industry’s major unions and guilds, have been working towards enabling productions to resume safely and responsibly. In September of 2020, their efforts culminated in a formal Return to Work Agreement (RTW) that established comprehensive protocols to protect employees as productions returned following the shutdown, contributing to the economic recovery of the industry and the country.

Throughout the pandemic, the industry also has to ensure productions remain in compliance with state and local guidelines. Since the beginning of 2021, those guidelines have begun to shift as more Americans become vaccinated, lockdowns are lifted, and states decide to reopen. The result is mixed; some protocols haven’t changed – like the RTW agreement, which expires June 30th – and some are continually evolving.

With that in mind, we wanted to help by looking at ongoing recommendations, how states are reopening and updating guidelines, and how productions can keep track of all the changes with EP’s COVID-19 Reopening Tracker.

What does the AMPTP’s Return-to-Work agreement require?

Until its expiration on June 30th (it is, however, up for renegotiation) the RTW agreement continues to be the touchstone for productions’ safety, operating conditions, testing, training, sick leave and quarantine pay. Given its importance, here’s a review of its main guidelines, which remain applicable until it is extended or renegotiated:

  • Heightened cleaning and disinfection procedures must be in place.
  • Meals and snacks must be packaged and wrapped individually. Food may not be served buffet style.
  • Contact should be minimized by, for example, limiting shared equipment and transitioning to touch-less, digital documents.
  • A COVID-19 compliance supervisor, responsible for the safety and enforcement of these guidelines, must be trained and assigned to each production. A stipend of $20 per hour of training is available if it occurs outside a regular workday.
  • Employees must receive a PCR diagnostic test within 72 hours of their first day of work – or two rapid tests within 48 hours.
  • The frequency of testing after the initial pre-work screening is determined by the organization of the workforce in four zones, defined by the frequency of interactions they have with co-workers.

Zone A: All performers and background workers. If working five days or more in a week, these individuals must be tested three times (one PCR, two rapid tests). If working less than five days, testing should occur once within 72 hours before each day of work.

Zone B: Employees on hot sets who are near others without personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks or face shields, or need to work within six feet of others for longer than 15 minutes. PCR testing is required once per week, or alternatively, two rapid tests.

Zone C: Employees who wear PPE at all times, are only around others wearing PPE, and never work closer than 6 feet to someone. PCR testing is required every two weeks.

Zone D: All other workers, such as publicists, post-production employees, set designers, costume department, and others. After initial pre-employment tests, no further periodic testing is needed– unless if required to enter any of the above zones.

Note: Producers are encouraged to limit contact further by creating “pods” within zones.

  • A Health Assessment Survey is required from on-set employees at the start of each day and may be submitted electronically or in person.
  • Productions must pay a $250 stipend to employees receiving tests on non-workdays.
  • Quarantine pay is made available for cases where, for example, actors or crew arrive at shooting locations where they must self-isolate for up to two weeks before starting work.
  • Up to 10 days of paid sick leave (no more than $750 per day) is offered to those experiencing an “Eligible COVID-19 Event.” An “event” is defined as an individual (or their family member) testing positive for COVID-19, being asked by a producer to self-isolate after being near someone with COVID-19, or needing to care for children or the elderly.

How can productions track changing COVID guidelines?

Productions are not just guided by the RTW agreement, but by ever-changing federal, state and city-level protocols. There are CDC guidelines to adhere to, although they can change weekly and may not necessarily affect productions in every state. Because some COVID-19 decisions are left to individual states, that means there is no consensus – especially around the question of reopening, something that’s critical to productions moving forward.

Some states consider hospital rates, immunization rates, COVID-19 case numbers, other factors, or all of the above, before deciding to reopen. Some states have already set firm dates for reopening (such as California and Illinois scheduled to reopen in June), while some still have not (New York and New Jersey). Some states are already open and don’t require masks (Georgia and Louisiana), some are open but do require masks (Nevada and West Virginia).

The complex and changing landscape of local, state, federal, and industry-specific guidelines is the reason EP has created the COVID-19 Reopening Tracker. Designed to consolidate key information impacting production locations across the United States, the tracker provides accurate and timely information regarding all COVID-related travel restrictions, stay-at-home orders, and reopening protocols for each state and key filming jurisdiction so productions can resume safely and operate in compliance.

In order to reflect sometimes day-to-day changes, the tracker is updated every 14 days to list the most current information about federal, state, and city-level COVID-19-related ordinances and protocols. It also tracks entertainment industry union reports and agreements – something that will be especially critical for whatever changes may be made to the RTW agreement after its expiration in June.

For more information, be sure to check out our Master Series Webinar on the Return-to-Work Agreement and stay up to date on changing guidelines with the COVID-19 Reopening Tracker.

Topic: COVID-19

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